This simple statement holds so much meaning for families who have children with disabilities. Every child is unique, and every family is on a different path. Yet, regardless of disability, location, ethnicity, or income, we truly all are a little timid in the beginning. Even the most articulate and accomplished advocates, and self-advocates, did not start out that way. Everyone has to learn. And this journey requires numerous ‘guidebooks’, mentors, leaders, and life experiences to navigate successfully. The road is usually complex. While that often involves stress, the success along the way is that much sweeter. Many families learn to not just stop and smell the roses, but to truly enjoy, nurture, and admire this life we have. Families take nothing for granted and are more grateful than most realize.
Hearing Steve and Laura Riggio discuss raising their beautiful daughter Melissa is an experience full of golden soundbite nuggets. They discuss inclusion, disability rights, adapting curriculum, and so much more. What they say rings true to me as a parent. They share wonderful stories full of love and high expectations. I hope that much of what they say rings true to you as well. If not as a parent now, as a parent in the future. Or as an educator who is always striving to build relationships with their students and families. Or as a non-profit leader or staff member who wants to be a progressive change agent, which requires understanding individuals with disabilities and their families. Or as a community member who simply cares about getting to know all of humanity on a deeper level.
Melissa was born in 1988, and would be 31 now if her life had not tragically been cut too short. It is profound, and deeply disturbing to me that in 2019, the majority of families who have children with disabilities still face the same discrimination and push back in school that Laura Riggio so eloquently describes. We still have to prove our children’s worth in the class, if we want them to have a fully inclusive, challenging education. On top of this, children with disabilities who are included are often not properly supported in their classroom settings. This means their educators are also not properly supported. And when this fails, which it often does, too many give up on inclusion, or say “it doesn’t work”.
As you hear the episodes of Born Fabulous you will hear stories of inclusion and exclusion. The examples of exclusion were not what the parents wanted for their child, but by high school some were simply worn down. And they also show how the particular students involved were underestimated, usually by quite a lot. More importantly they show the drive and determination to succeed, despite many hurdles.
The fact is that when inclusion is properly supported in our schools, the majority of students with disabilities can be successful. And their typically developing peers also thrive. There are literally decades of data proving this now. Yet, in 2019 many school divisions are actually regressing when it comes to educating students with disabilities with their typically developing peers.
At the end of this first blog I am posting a link to my favorite inclusion video. It features Cyndi Pitonyak, a revered educator, discussing the transformation that happened in Montgomery County, Virginia in 1990, for all students. Cyndi shows that when inclusion is implemented with thought, training, and the right hearts, it can be successful for the majority of students, “not just some kids”. It is my hope that these reminders, from the Riggios and Cyndi Pitonyak, will give administrators, families, and communities pause. And then there will be a reset—for a truly inclusive future which starts in school. When all children grow up learning together, we will have a much kinder and gentler world. I know it.
Thank you so much for taking the time to listen to Born Fabulous, and for reading this.
From my heart,
Greta Galvez Harrison